Michael Dougan, From Houston to Tōno

« I’ve never been to Texas but I’ve heard Willie Nelson Sing. » — Mark Ballard

I’ve just heard of the recent, untimely passing of cartoonist Michael Dougan (1958-2023). Well, perhaps former cartoonist would be more accurate, but if so — he said his piece, made his mark, and moved on — and that’s cool. But can cartooning truly ever be left behind?

Dougan made his début in comics on the back cover of my very favourite issue of Weirdo, no. 17 (Summer 1986, Last Gasp), which also housed my pick for Robert Crumb‘s greatest short-form achievement, The Religious Experience of Philip K. Dick, and a cover among his finest *and* most provocative. See both story and cover here!
Dougan’s first collection appeared the following year, published by Seattle’s fabled The Real Comet Press. The back cover was festooned with eloquent-upon-eloquent quips from his peers. For instance, Gary Panter wrote: « Dougan’s work is clear and he is not afraid. He is a big storyteller and a good liar. In East Texas the wire fences, orange colored tufts of grass, pine trees, tire tracks, piles of wood, and water towers are the best parts. The stories are about human desperation, a funny kind of desperation, an air-conditioned kind of desperation. »

And here are a few excerpts from its pages:

Dougan’s second and final collection, from 1993, was published by Penguin, no less! It featured longer, more ambitious pieces.
Kentucky Fried Funeral would have to be my first pick for Dougan’s masterpiece. Unfortunately, it’s around 20 pages long, so it was unfeasible to present it here. Still, here’s the opening splash.
A detail, perhaps, but worth noting, I think: Dougan preferred handling his own lettering, finding, like many a visual artist, the look and texture of mechanical text too… well, mechanical. Lovely!

In 2017, some twenty years after his last cartoon (that I’m aware of… Double Booked?, in Fantagraphics’ Zero Zero no.17, June, 1997) Michael and his wife moved to Japan and opened a café-restaurant. Read Michael’s own account of the saga.

This must be the place.
Of course, Dougan named his place after Bogie’s in Casablanca, but not without adding a couple of typos, for that modern touch.

Creative types often get restless, and Michael found himself a little niche answering people’s mostly, and sometimes incredibly, inane questions on Quora, with a potent mixture of withering sarcasm with a side of snide, all the while providing helpful information — whenever possible. Check out his feed, but let me caution you: it’s a bit of a frazzling rabbit hole (or warren, more accurately).

I’m hoping that, once news of Michael’s passing trickles over to his native land, that The Comics Journal will provide a detailed obituary of this notable artist. Farewell, Mr. Dougan.

Update: I see that TCJ has not let me down. Here’s their first piece in tribute to Michael.

Further update: The Seattle Times has just published a moving obituary by his friend, former The Rocket Editor Charles R. Cross.

-RG

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